Industry Research

Bus Safety Study Spotlights Weak Spots

Posted on November 2, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Although America Bus Association operator-members are follow safety rules and have the highest ground transportation safety ratings, there are companies on the roads that are not running safely. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration must do a better job “finding, inspecting and shutting down bus companies that operate outside the law,” ABA president and CEO Peter Pantuso said in a press release this week.

The statement comes on the heels of the National Transportation Safety Board’s report on the safety of curbside motorcoach companies.

The NTSB’s study points out that traveling by motorcoach remains the safest form of surface transportation in the U.S. The growth of motorcoach travel to cities like New York, and the expansion of companies including Bolt, Megabus and other curbside carries, substantiates the fact that customers agree motorcoach travel is the best way to travel.

The ABA has decided it will not allow any motorcoach company with an “Unsatisfactory” FMCSA compliance review score to be a member. If a company has a “Conditional” rating, the company has six months to get the score elevated to “Satisfactory” or its ABA membership will be dropped. In addition, the ABA is now reviewing its database every three months to determine an operator’s safety status.

Low-fare buses crash more often, NTSB study finds.

High Fatality Rate Found For Low-Cost Buses.

Lax Rules for Discount Buses Cited After I-95 Crash.

The NTSB’s report points out several areas of agreement with positions the ABA has taken:

  • The NTSB and ABA support a higher entry fee than the current $300 for a company to apply to the Department of Transportation to obtain a DOT license to carry people.
  • The NTSB report points out critical problems exist with some companies and its drivers not being able to master the requirement to speak or read English.
  • The NTSB report says driver fatigue is a contributing factor in many accidents and a continuing safety concern. The ABA’s Bus Industry Safety Council is addressing the issue and the FMCSA has brought in a leading human performance/sleep expert to suggest ways the government, motorcoach companies and drivers can improve significantly in this area.
  • The ABA believes more emphasis needs to be placed on inspecting motorcoaches in facilities at their point of origin or the destination.
  • Vehicle inspectors should place a top priority on inspecting motorcoaches rather than commercial trucks. While commercial products — such as food — are important, people deserve a higher priority.
  • The NTSB report indicates the FMCSA’s own database needs a thorough review and updating.
  • The NTSB report indicates a clear lack of transparency when it comes to online ticket brokers and the relationship those brokers have to particular motorcoach companies. In many cases a passenger does not know which company he or she has bought a ticket for.

The ABA agrees with the NTSB that a system should be in place to inspect new bus companies before they begin transporting passengers.

Critical concern
The ABA respectfully disagrees with the NTSB on the issue of en route bus inspections. The association believes bus inspections need to be done at a company’s place of business, point of origin, or maintenance facility before a passenger even gets on the motorcoach.

“When people get on an airplane, they have a right to know that an aircraft and airline is operating to the highest level of safety,” Pantuso said. “An airplane would never be forced to land en route so an inspector could check the logbooks of a pilot or an aircraft. This should be the same with buses. We support inspections [because] they are vital. However, conduct compliance reviews and spot inspections in places where they do the most good, not pulled over on the side of a road.”

It’s likely that passengers would be left along the side of the road while the bus is being inspected, a critical concern for passengers with disabilities. Passengers also may have to make connections to other motorcoaches or airplanes and a delay would impact their schedules.

Ironic and confusing
The NTSB report said that bad motorcoach companies “engage in practices that make oversight difficult,” including repainting buses, re-registering the company in a relative’s name, avoiding weight stations, having multiple DOT numbers or operating from states that are well-known for a lax reputation and history regarding motorcoach inspections and regulation.

“It is ironic and confusing that state and federal inspectors say they, in many cases, cannot find the bus companies or motorcoaches for them to inspect,” Pantuso said. “The passengers know which curbside they need to go to and the ticket brokers publish the drop-off and pick-up locations on their websites.”

The ABA supports two critical pieces of legislation that would improve motorcoach safety, House Bill 1390 and House Bill 2459.

H.R. 1390 addresses a range of motorcoach safety issues and uses specific, scientific research to make motorcoaches structurally stronger. H.R. 2459 would create a national clearinghouse, available to motorcoach companies and law enforcement, with detailed driver drug and alcohol information on their website.

Bad seed’s reincarnation
The NTSB’s report indicates that curbside motorcoach carrier safety issues are a larger concern in New York City and parts of the northeast, where there is a much higher number of companies operating or possibly planning to start up curbside service.

There also have been a higher percentage of accidents in the northeast, including the March 2011 crash involving World Wide Tours. The New York Times reported that World Wide Tours has reincarnated itself and is operating again, despite being listed as “Out of Service” on the FMCSA’s website.

From NTSB report, Chapter 4, Conclusions: “Motorcoach safety is not a function of whether passengers are picked up and dropped off at a curbside or a terminal or how much passengers are charged for fares. Rather, motorcoach safety, including curbside safety, is strongly influenced by the management of the carriers that own these vehicles and the drivers that operate them.”

Sources: American Bus Association; Michael Campos, LCT assistant editor

Related Topics: American Bus Association, bus crash, bus regulations, buses, driver safety, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, illegal operators, motorcoaches, safety education, vehicle safety

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